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Editorial Boob

ETA: Based on suggestions in the comments, I will be contacting the major publishers to try to find out who to contact if you’ve experienced this sort of harassment from one of their employees.  I will publish that information as soon as I can.


Yesterday I posted about the good that was WFC.  Today I wanted to talk about some of the bad and the ugly.

Over the course of the convention, I ended up talking to several different women about a particular editor from one of the major publishing houses.  Each one of these women, all of whom are writers, described how this editor would ogle their chests, give uninvited massages, or explicitly compliment them on their breasts.

The more I heard these stories and thought about them, the angrier I got.  Bad enough when a random creep at a con puts his hands on you without permission, or sits there leering at you.  What do you do, as a writer, when it’s an editor?  Someone who might be able to give you your big break, but could also ruin you, at least at this particular house?

(Gosh, it’s a good thing there’s no sexism in SF/F anymore, eh?)

And what do I do?  I didn’t witness this behavior first-hand.  Oh no, this guy was always perfectly civil around me.  Nor do I feel comfortable telling other people’s stories for them.  Meaning … what?  I just write a vague post about editors who sexually harass writers?

So far, only a few other options have come to mind.

1. I can point out the back up project.  The project does make a good point that, “it is unlikely that a woman who is already being followed around a con hotel by a strange guy will feel as comfortable asking another strange guy to walk with her to her car as she would asking another woman.”  But if you feel comfortable asking me for backup, I’ll say yes.  And if I see this behavior, I’ll do my best to challenge it.  (Hey, he’s not my editor.  The dude has zero power over me…)

2. I can point out that he has little real power over anyone else, either.  Editors are not as powerful as they think.  The truth is, if you’re a good writer, this guy isn’t your only option.  There are other editors looking for good books.  And ultimately, if your writing isn’t ready yet, then it doesn’t matter how much he looks and/or touches you; he’s not going to buy a book from you.  Either way, this individual has no actual power over you.

3. I can point out that you’re not alone.  I know sometimes this sort of thing can make you feel alone, but if you’ve been harassed by some guy at a con or elsewhere, I guarantee you’re not the only one he’s done it to.

I suspect this sort of thing is often overlooked because people tell themselves it’s not that bad.

I think it’s bad enough.  It’s an unforgivable abuse of one’s position as editor.  It’s an inexcusable way to behave toward others.  And it’s not something that anyone should have to put up with.

Thoughts and discussion are welcome, as always.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.



Nov. 2nd, 2010 08:30 pm (UTC)
You only want people to discuss this who all agree with each other? Because this is your journal and that's absolutely your right.

I can't comprehend what would make someone NOT get up and leave. Call him names if you like, slap his face, but get the *bleep* out of there. As you yourself said, the imbalance of power isn't real. If your book is any good, someone else is going to pick it up. Nobody NEEDS this particular guy. In other circumstances it's usually much the same. Nobody's irreplaceable.

Nov. 2nd, 2010 08:34 pm (UTC)
"You only want people to discuss this who all agree with each other? Because this is your journal and that's absolutely your right."

That strikes me as a somewhat bizarre response. I don't think I ever suggested anything like this, and I'm baffled as to where it came from.

"I can't comprehend what would make someone NOT get up and leave."

I think that's part of the problem people are having. Coercion and power work in a lot of different ways. I get that you don't understand/comprehend this; but it seems like because *you* don't get it, you're dismissing it out of hand, and in the process, dismissing those who do feel coerced or pressured in these sorts of situation.
Nov. 2nd, 2010 08:54 pm (UTC)
Regarding the first part, your question "is that where you want to go with this" sounded rhetorical, as if disagreeing about this issue isn't valid or acceptable. And on your journal, if you say it's not then it's not.

There are two ways to deal with a bully: fix the situation, or live in fear. I don't have much sympathy for the "live in fear" camp. I'm not saying lots of us don't start there, but expecting the world to change instead of changing yourself seems a little unreasonable. You can get this one guy fired, but what happens when you run into another one? You have to have internal means of managing your own life.
Nov. 2nd, 2010 10:57 pm (UTC)
Therefore, you are not in sympathy with the victims. Nice.

I suspect that you have never experienced this kind of situation where the perpetrator held real power over you.
Nov. 10th, 2010 07:13 am (UTC)
Or where you cared about the perpetrator. Or were constrained by other things.

It's one thing to threaten to "take the hand off" of some random person you barely know, it's another to actually do violence to the person you love and until just a few seconds ago trusted unconditionally.
Nov. 4th, 2010 12:39 am (UTC)
Just out of curiosity, what if you can't fix the situation, whatever it may be?
Nov. 4th, 2010 04:26 am (UTC)
Yes, this.

I would also be interested in knowing if the commenter above has ever actually "taken off someone's hand." The "don't fuck with me" vibe works really well--I should know, I've got it in spades--until it doesn't.
Nov. 2nd, 2010 08:53 pm (UTC)
Before I was sexually harassed in my (former) workplace, I would have agreed with you. I would even have thought of myself as the kind of person who would stand up and call the guy on that kind of behavior without hesitation, or shout for help, or at the very least give him an icy stare and walk away. It seemed like such an obvious and easy thing to do.

It was not easy. It was not obvious. And sometimes even getting the *bleep* out of there (which I did by going to the back of the office and shutting myself in the washroom) does nothing to address the situation, only defers it for a while. It certainly did nothing to make me feel any less sickened, victimized, or frightened. And this was relatively mild, verbal harassment -- nothing physical.

You can't comprehend a woman being so shocked or intimidated or otherwise overwhelmed by this editor's behavior that she wouldn't take action? Fine, that tells us that you, as an individual, can't comprehend it. But it doesn't do anything to address the problem or stop the guy who's causing it. And it sounds awfully like you're blaming the victims for not being as "strong" as you perceive yourself to be.
Nov. 2nd, 2010 08:56 pm (UTC)
Not strong. Just pragmatic. The world will not change to suit me, so I need to change to suit myself.
Nov. 2nd, 2010 09:50 pm (UTC)
"Get to the back of the bus, Ms. Parks."

Cultures change.
Nov. 2nd, 2010 11:51 pm (UTC)
You have no conception what it's like when it happens to you.

I've seen it happen to forceful, strong women in their 50s, and the tool used was not blatant sexual harassment but it was sexual and age discrimination, with potential threat to one's job.

This kind of harassment does not need to be blatant groping to be a problem. And even strong, powerful women suffer from such treatment.

I know. I'm one such. Instead of groping me, however, such personages tend to try other means of "putting the uppity woman in her place."
Nov. 2nd, 2010 11:58 pm (UTC)
You're assuming it doesn't happen to me, just because I don't think it's someone else's job to protect me from it?

If I can't handle myself, then I deserve what I get. That's what I think.
(no subject) - jimhines - Nov. 3rd, 2010 12:03 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - silverrose - Nov. 3rd, 2010 12:19 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Nov. 3rd, 2010 12:35 am (UTC) - Expand
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Nov. 2nd, 2010 08:56 pm (UTC)
OK, I can't "comprehend," in that I can't imagine myself being in the situation, why a woman in an abusive relationship wouldn't just get out of it. But in fact there's a lot of reasons why she might not - fear, conditioning, having no other resources, and me not having experienced those doesn't make them not so.

There are many reasons why someone wouldn't act as you (or I) think appropriate. Bewilderment that it's even happening -- someone who behaves outrageously to someone who doesn't expect does often have the advantage. Fear (if they slap them) of being hurt. The social conditioning of oh-so-important female politeness. Not knowing if this is somehow normal in this world. Fear of being ridiculed. Fear of seeming hysterical. Fear. Etc.
Nov. 4th, 2010 12:49 am (UTC)
With respect...
what would make someone not get up and leave?

She's at dinner, with a table of one or two other authors and this editor. A struggling new writer, the chance to spend an entire meal pitching your work to a well-respected editor (you think), is too good to pass up. The meal continues, good conversation is had by all...and the other member at the table gets up to go to the bathroom, leaving you with the editor. Whose comments get out of line. Your friend comes back from the bathroom and conversation returns to normal. Or, conversely, later on in the con you see him in a hallway and wave (thinking to yourself, "OMG, how cool, I know a real editor!") and he makes a comment then. I don't know many women - even strong, forceful women - who would feel comfortable standing up from a table with other people at it and walking away.

The social pressure to 'behave' in this context is huge - after all, who wants to be the woman who quote/unquote overreacted? The urge to justify to yourself said editors' behavior (He didn't mean it, I must have heard wrong, maybe he'd had a bit too much to drink)? Also huge. Especially if said editor expresses an interest in your work and asks you to send him a manuscript. Sure, there are other editors, but what if you really want to work with this house? What if you don't get face time with any of these other editors? Why not just shrug it off, hope it was a one time thing, and focus instead on hopefully selling your novel?

I could give more examples, but I find it a bit...facile of you to claim that it's easy for women to just get up and leave. A lifetime of being indoctrinated by our society to behave, and on the rules of polite and socially acceptable, behavior, are not easily overcome.

- D
Nov. 4th, 2010 07:28 pm (UTC)
This is the wider question of "why does anyone put up with abuse?" And you know what? I don't get it either, not at a gut level. That's OK, I don't have to get it - but I do believe it's true because I've seen too many strong women, too many women I respect, end up in that situation. I don't have to get it, I only have to trust the evidence of my eyes ... and my friends.

(Also, I realize that not getting it is mostly a result of luck on my part.)


Jim C. Hines

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